October 31st, 2012

forgetting in order to remember

This post from Psyblog is a list of psychological observations to do with memory. Some observations reveal unintuitive patterns in memory, like this one:

If you want to learn to play tennis, is it better to spend one week learning to serve, the next week the forehand, the week after the backhand, and so on? Or should you mix it all up with serves, forehands and backhands every day?

It turns out that for long-term retention, memories are more easily recalled if learning is mixed up. This is just as true for both motor learning, like tennis, as it is for declarative memory, like what’s the capital of Venezuela (to save you googling: it’s Caracas).

The trouble is that learning like this is worse to start off with. If you practice your serve then quickly switch to the forehand, you ‘forget’ how to serve. So you feel things are going worse than if you just practice your serve over-and-over again. But, in the long-run this kind of mix-and-match learning works best.

One explanation for why this works is called the ‘reloading hypothesis’. Each time we switch tasks we have to ‘reload’ the memory. This process of reloading strengthens the learning.

That does make sense, actually. I recall noticing on one occasion that it was quite effective to learn a language whilst doing another task (i.e. returning to the language exercise regularly).

More here.

October 26th, 2012

Lancelot Hogben

It turns out Lancelot Hogben was as impressive as his name promises.

I started reading about him after I found a copy of his 1938 book “Science for the Citizen”, illustrated by J.F. Horrabin. You can find this book on archive.org, but it doesn’t match the beauty of the printed version, in which text and diagrams melt into yellowed paper. It’s like a holy text. The attention to detail in the writing makes for educational luxury; it’s an educational text that actually has a soul and a sense of purpose.

From the Hogben’s introduction:

In the Victorian age big men of science like Faraday, T. H. Huxley, and Tyndall did not think it beneath their dignity to write about simple truths with the conviction that they could instruct their audiences. There were giants in those days. The new fashion is to select from the periphery of mathematicized hypotheses some half-assimilated speculation as a preface to homilies and apologetics crude enough to induce a cold sweat in a really sophisticated theologian who knows his job. With a few notable exceptions such as Simple Science by Andrade and Huxley and two volumes on British and American men of science by J. G. Crowther, this is a fair description of the state into which the writing of popular science has fallen hi contemporary Britain. The clue to the state of mind which produces these
weak-kneed and clownish apologetics is contempt for the common man. The key to the eloquent literature which the pen of Faraday and Huxley produced is their firm faith in the educability of mankind.

Apart from being a legendary zoologist, a writer, political activist and lecturer, Hogben was also a linguist. He invented Interglossa, an international language (‘a draft of an auxiliary for a democratic world order’).

Inimical to all traditional grammar, Hogben is certainly one of the most radical of all the interlinguists. He begins from the proposition that an international language is primarily of interest to scientists, and especially those from the East, who need an easy means of access to the conquests of Western science. All projects prior to his, which were always based on one or more European languages, were aimed solely at Western scholars. But of course the structure of the “Aryan” languages (that is, the Indo-Germanic and the Finno-Ugric languages) is not at all natural for a Japanese, a Chinese, or an African. In order to benefit these, an international language should be of the isolating, rather than the agglutinative, type, in contrast to all the previous attempts at universal languages.

More of that article here.

October 23rd, 2012

return of the t-cell

Here’s a BBC documentary about the human cell and its relationship over billions of years with the virus cell.

It takes a nice, broad perspective and presents the story with impressive visuals. Quite impressed as I am, I didn’t like the incredibly tedious camera work for the in-between segments, and the drone of David Tennant’s narration throughout the entire film. You can’t have it all.

Update: Pity the video has been taken down. It was called Secret Universe: The Hidden Life of the Cell.

October 17th, 2012

modernising a timeless game

A keen approach to designing a modern chess board, by Israeli designer Neora Zigler. From her website:

“Chess for the Mass” proposes an alternative design for the existing chess game pieces, fitting the current plastic injection manufacturing process, while preserving traditional identification symbols.

Back in the days chess pieces where manufactured using wood turning technology which had a direct influence on the
shape and design of the pieces. today, pieces are manufactured mostly by plastic injection, yet they still maintain the traditional shapes relevant to wood turning.

“Chess for the Mass” pieces are shaped in a shell-like form fitting the plastic injection manufacturing process and
allowing stackability of the pieces resulting in small compact packaging of the chess set.

More here. (via notcot)

October 14th, 2012


Researchers at Stanford university compare the the networking of an ant colony to the mechanism of the internet. A lesson in harnessing the collective power of individual units! (via sciencedump)

October 11th, 2012

“blending tradition and innovation”

This silicone brush design does look like fun.

Not quite a brush. Not quite a palette knife. Catalyst tools are crafted from flexible silicone to allow artists a new form of expression. Available in two unique styles: Catalyst Wedges are ergonomically designed to fit in your hand allowing a direct interaction with your work. Catalyst Blades are mounted on artist brush handles offering a blend of tradition and innovation.

I wonder if it is as handy and effective as it looks! Princeton Catalyst brushes (via Notcot)

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October 9th, 2012

making time

A psychological tip for plucking extra time out of thin air (or at least, giving value to the time we have): give it away.

One new study claims that when we spend our time on other people we feel like we have done something valuable and our perspective on time changes. People think they are capable of more in the time they have.

The impact of giving time on feelings of time affluence is driven by a boosted sense of self-efficacy. Consequently, giving time makes people more willing to commit to future engagements despite their busy schedules.

Of course, people whose jobs it is to help others all day are not good examples of people who will benefit from this observation.

(via psyblog)

October 9th, 2012

alternative scarecrow

What a mechanism! Now that’s resourceful. (via sciencedump)

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